PLYMOUTH, Mich. — A capacity crowd, a new captain and the NHL back at it made it a successful night at Compuware Arena in Plymouth.
A crowd estimated at 4,000 came out to watch the Red Wings and Grand Rapids Griffins play in the Red-White Game Tuesday night. There were so many fans who came out that they had to turn some away when the parking lot was full just after the gates opened at 5 p.m. for the 6 p.m. scrimmage.
The fans who did get in got to see Henrik Zetterberg wear the ‘C’ on his sweater for the first time.
“Of course it was nice. Pretty cool to skate out there for the first time with it (the C) on,” Zetterberg said. “I was here at 4:15. It was packed everywhere, almost couldn’t get to our parking lot. So it was pretty amazing to see all the fans show up. We really appreciate that. We’re really looking forward to Tuesday’s home opener.”
Naturally it was Zetterberg who led Team Red to a 4-2 victory over Team White. He scored the deciding goal in the second period on a rebound of Damien Brunner’s shot.
The other goal scorers were Trevor Parkes (White), Drew Miller (Red), Jeff Hoggan (White) Louis-Marc Aubry (Red) and Nathan Paetsch (Red).
Coach Mike Babcock let his assistants and the Griffins coaches handle the game while he watched from the roof of the press box.
“I thought (the crowd) was maybe the best thing about the whole night,” Babcock said. “I understand the parking lot was jammed and it was tough getting in here. They’re very, very supportive of the players and I’m appreciative of that they stuck with us.”
Although it was just a scrimmage, for goaltenders Jimmy Howard (Team White) and Jonas Gustavsson (Team Red) who did not play in Europe, it was a test.
“It was good to be back out there,” Howard said. “Definitely, that game served its purpose of getting the rust off. As the game went along I felt more and more comfortable, and more and more at home out there, which is a great sign for me.”
Gustavsson said he treated it as though it were a real game.
“Even if you share the locker room and all that and you face your teammates, it’s still a game,” Gustavsson said. “It’s a lot of competition out there and that’s what you need. Especially when you haven’t played a game in a long time, you get to be in those situations, you have people battling in front of you that you have to battle with to see the puck. You don’t really get that in the practice.”
Fans also got their first look at Brunner, the Swiss League star who chose the Wings over several other NHL teams.
“It’s different on the small ice and it’s different than practice because in practice everyone knows what to do,” Brunner said. “It’s good to see you have a little more space than I thought in game action. It felt good.”
Babcock was pleased with his new first-line forward.
“I thought Brunner, he generated some offense for sure,” Babcock said. “It’s tight space. It’s not heavy going out there or anything like that so only time will tell. I thought (Brendan) Smith was good. Those are the two guys for me that aren’t regular Wings that stood out for me.”
As for the Griffins, you could tell they were already 36 games into the season.
“It was kind of hard to play,” Tomas Tatar said. “You don’t want to injure anybody and you gotta kind of be careful. It’s more about getting guys ready for the games. Obviously you want to show yourself, too. I think it was fun for the people.”
The Griffins will get another benefit from the Red-White Game. They have a game in Charlotte, NC, on Wednesday night and they get to take the Wings’ plane there.
“For sure, it’s way easier for us, just fly there from here than to just go the regular plane,” Tatar said. “It’s kind of nice. We kind of did something for (the) Red Wings, we tried to make them be prepared for (the) season, so I guess this is how they pay us back and it’s nice for us. I think everybody will appreciate it.”
The Wings certainly appreciated it and hope that the efforts will serve them well when they play their first regular-season game Saturday night in St. Louis.
“It’s always huge to have at least a game before the season starts so you know a little bit what the play is going to be out there,” Gustavsson said. “Because I thought it was pretty good, especially the first half of the game. That’s one way to take the next step to get ready and I think we did that.”
Datsyuk back from Russia
Pavel Datsyuk has returned from Russia.
“I can tell you the guys are thrilled to have him, the coaches are thrilled to have him, the people of Detroit will be thrilled to have him back,” Babcock said. “He’s a superstar who’s an unbelievable person and a great team leader.”
Although Datsyuk did not play in Tuesday night’s Red-White Game, he is expected to practice Thursday at Joe Louis Arena.
Datsyuk, who felt playing in his native Russia was the perfect way to stay in shape during the lockout, was very pleased that his Euro Twin, Zetterberg, was named captain.
“He deserves (it),” Datsyuk said. “He’s a leader in locker room. He’s a good player. I believe when he retires his jersey will be in (the) Joe Louis Arena (rafters) or maybe (a) new arena, who knows. I’m happy 100 percent. Exactly right decision.”
Helm, Samuelsson still out
Darren Helm (back) and Mikael Samuelsson (groin) did not participate in the Red-White Game.
Helm, who hasn’t skated since last Thursday, does not expect to be ready for Saturday.
“I’ve never had a back injury, I’m just kind of listening to what they’re saying and trusting them, like I’ve done before,” Helm said. “Just being really cautious with it and when it’s ready, it’s ready.
“It’s a short season. Obviously, I got to get back quickly, but I can’t rush it and be out for another 3-4 weeks. Got to be smart with it.”
Although the MRI revealed no damage, Helm said he’s still experiencing pain.
“I can’t really lift anything up right now, can’t bend over too well,” Helm said. “I’ll have to tie my skates before I skate around. It is hurting. It’s a small injury, but bugs me quite a bit. I have to make sure I can actually skate before I go out there.”
The prospects for Samuelsson seem a little brighter.
He underwent an ultrasound on his groin, which he said did not show any serious injury.
Samuelsson believes he’ll be able to practice Thursday and play Saturday.
“It’s not a big deal, but still first practice,” Samuelsson said. “You don’t want to start like this, but at the same time I will be ready for Saturday if the coach wants me.” Eaves plays for first time
Patrick Eaves, out since November of 2011 with a severe concussion, was able to play on Tuesday.
“It’s been a while,” Eaves said. “When the puck dropped out there it was like, ‘We’re back at it.’ So it was exciting.”
Eaves has been practicing with some of his teammates at the Troy Sports Center, but admitted the scrimmage was different.
“It’s a different pace than what we were doing in Troy,” Eaves said. “It’s been going well. Just try to get a little better every day, get used to the speed, to the size of the guys. Everything is coming back now.”
Eaves has been cleared to practice fully, but has not been cleared to play in regular-season games.
For now, he’s feeling pretty good and trying not to look too far ahead.
“We’ll re-evaluate when camp’s over and see where I’m at,” Eaves said. “That was a good step for me. We’ll see how I do, but I had a lot of fun.”